Empowering Change: My Journey with Unjani Clinics in South Africa

Abhishek Sharma

South Africa is an awe-inspiring place, often read about but less frequently explored. Through this blog I aim to share my experiences as an MBA participant in the Business For Good (BFG) course at INSEAD in February 2023. 

BFG is a field-based course during which we had the opportunity to engage directly with an organisation to help successfully execute its strategy. This involved a series of sessions on campus followed by a week of onsite collaboration with the organisation.

Our group worked with a thriving healthcare NGO – Unjani Clinics NPC. Established in 2013, Unjani seeks to provide quality and affordable private healthcare services in South Africa. Over the past decade it has grown exponentially to manage over 180 clinics. This rapid expansion has brought both opportunities and challenges in sustaining and scaling the clinics financially.

With the support of INSEAD, we meticulously planned the logistics of the trip well in advance. Despite encountering last-minute issues, the collaborative efforts of INSEAD and its network helped us overcome them.

In February 2023, our group arrived in Johannesburg to be greeted by the late summer sun. Coming from a cold, wet winter in France, the change was a refreshing shift and the warmth and hospitality of the airport help desk added to the sense of comfort. We were stationed in Centurion, a city 30 minutes’ north of Johannesburg.

Before our arrival, each of us had familiarised themselves with Unjani's work, divided into five different workstreams. I participated in the patient app workstream, primarily tasked with outlining a medium-to-long-term strategy for Unjani's mobile application for patients. Other workstreams focused on analytics, enterprise software features, inventory management of medical supplies, and the financial module of the NGO. Each workstream consisted of four to five students.

Throughout the following week, our groups visited various Unjani clinics, delving into their work, challenges, and impact. Most were operated by nurses – women striving for financial independence while contributing to the community – who had obstacles to overcome at every turn. 

Every day they grappled with safety concerns, fluctuating power supply and internet infrastructure, and societal issues. Interacting with these dedicated nurses and their clientele left a profound impression on us, highlighting their resilience in the face of adversity.

The week culminated with each workstream presenting their recommendations to Unjani's management and the nurses, leading to enriching discussions with key stakeholders. Their positive feedback was heartening. One nurse told us how the exercise had enhanced her understanding of the NGO's vision, shedding light on previously incomprehensible actions.

But the story didn’t end here, and I am especially thankful for that. I was fortunate enough to visit South Africa again in August 2023 for five weeks to continue the work. 

This time I worked with Unjani on current issues they face on daily basis. One of the most recurring issues was data and how it can cripple management’s capacity to make quicker, more targeted decisions. I managed to help the Unjani team with the medium-term vision for their data in combination with simplifying their current data dashboards.

I managed to see the beautiful country a little more than on the previous visit and am convinced that Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world – I say this after traveling a fair bit during my MBA. I hope that conveys how strongly I feel about it. 

Chapman’s Peak Drive (one of the most beautiful drives in the world)
A super excited Abhishek at the Cape of Good Hope

I am confident that Unjani will continue its upward trajectory, and I hope for a deepening relationship between Unjani and INSEAD. There is ample space for students to contribute to the remarkable journey it is undertaking, and I hope this account will inspire more individuals to step forward and volunteer for meaningful organisations such as Unjani.

I extend my gratitude to INSEAD and its generous donors for making this experience possible. It is a reminder that people in positions of privilege have a responsibility to uplift others, recognising how fortunate they are.

This programme is organised and supported by the INSEAD Healthcare Management Initiative. INSEAD is grateful to donors of the Hugo van Berckel Award and Moondance Foundation for their generous support.